As Chris Paul stood in the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room after the Clippers had won their 15th straight game on Thursday, he was asked whether he was worried that their victories during the streak had come too easily.
The Clippers’ average margin of victory during the streak was 16.3 points per game, and they owned the best point differential in the league at plus-10.3. Things had seemingly been easy for the Clippers. Maybe a little too easy.
“We're not going to say, 'Let's let 'em come back so we can work on late-game situations,'” Paul said. “You've got to play the hand that you're dealt.”
Well, the Clippers were finally dealt that hand Friday night, when they found themselves down 19 points midway through the third quarter on the road against the Utah Jazz. Instead of folding and chalking the loss up to playing on the road on the second night of a back-to-back, the Clippers stormed back.
They went on a 21-5 run in the third quarter before taking the lead late in the fourth quarter, then hung on to beat the Jazz 116-114 to win their 16th straight game and improve their record to a league-best 24-6.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
The Clippers haven’t had to wage too many comebacks this season, but they’ve proved they’re more than capable of digging themselves out of a hole late on the road. Their 19-point comeback in the second half was the first time the Clippers had rallied from that many points down since Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies last season, when they came back from 27 points down in the second half. During these moments, Paul’s leadership really comes through. Time and time again during the second half, Paul was seen on the bench, talking to his teammates and telling them it was “winning time.” It’s a time the Clippers have grown accustomed to during their winning streak.
Paul has been told by his teammates and Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro several times this season to play more aggressively early in games. Far too often he looks to get his teammates involved in the first half and doesn’t impose his will on teams. Paul usually responds to their request by saying he will let the game come to him. He will be aggressive when he needs to be aggressive. In the second half at Utah, Paul needed to be aggressive, and he was. Paul scored 22 of his 29 points in the second and hit 12 of 13 free throws after halftime. He scored nine points in the fourth quarter, with seven of those points coming at the free throw line. “It was fun,” Paul said. “This is always a tough place to play.”
Bench and defense
Two of the biggest reasons the Clippers had won 15 in a row going into Friday were their defense and their bench. Against Utah, neither was particularly good. But they came up big when the Clippers were making their comeback. The Clippers gave up 114 points, the most they have surrendered in regulation and second only to the 117 they gave up to Oklahoma City in overtime last month. The Jazz hit 47.9 percent of their shots in the game and outscored the Clippers 36-19 in the second quarter. The Clippers, however, rallied by holding the Jazz to 40 percent shooting in the fourth quarter and by outscoring Utah 68-56 in the second half. The Clippers’ bench scored only 25 points in the game, a total it normally hits in the first half. Jamal Crawford, however, scored 10 of those points in the second half and six points in the fourth quarter to help the Clippers storm back.